The North Carolina field hockey team earned a spot in the 2021 Atlantic Coast Conference Championship game and avenged a loss in the process, beating Syracuse 4-1 at the Orange’s J.S. Coyne Stadium Friday afternoon in the ACC semifinals. Senior forward Erin Matson had a second-quarter hat trick and Hannah Griggs contributed a goal and an assist to put the Tar Heels up 4-0 before a late Syracuse score.

The third-seeded Tar Heels (12-6) will face fifth-seeded Virginia on Sunday at noon for the title. UNC is playing for its fifth ACC Championship in a row and 24th in program history.

Carolina fell 5-0 to Syracuse on this same field just over a month ago, in the teams’ regular-season meeting on Oct. 1, and came in determined not to have the day end the same way. This one also started very differently, with associate head coach Grant Fulton serving as the head coach after the UNC bench was hit with a red card late in Thursday night’s 3-2 OT win over Wake Forest. The penalty meant that Carolina coach Karen Shelton had to leave the field with five seconds left in regulation and also miss the following game, Friday’s against Syracuse. She was a part of the team’s preparation and even the warm-up, but could not be around or communicate with the team from the start of the game until the end.

“We missed her immensely,” Fulton said. “We just had to take care of business and try and do the job at hand to the best of our ability.”

That included coming out strong against the Orange and applying pressure from the outset. After a scoreless first quarter, Matson’s first goal came on a penalty stroke 52 seconds into the second period.

The score stayed put until the 25th minute, when defender Romea Riccardo sent a long pass into the circle, where it bounced off a defender. Matson chased the ball down in front of the cage and with defenders on either side of her, sent a backhand between the legs of the SU keeper for a 2-0 lead.

Just over two minutes later, Griggs passed the ball out from the far baseline to the front of the cage. Matson sent a point-blank shot at the SU keeper, Brooke Borzymowski, who appeared to have made the save. But the ball rolled behind her and trickled into the cage to send the Tar Heels into halftime with a 3-0 lead, the same score by which they trailed at the half in the season’s first meeting.

The hat trick for Matson was the fourth of the season and third in her last four games.

Neither team scored in the third quarter, although Syracuse outshot UNC 6-1 and drew five penalty corners. In the 52nd minute on a break, the keeper came out to defend Matson, who passed to Griggs. The senior from Faversham, England, scored into the empty cage and pointed to the passer, acknowledging the assist that was the 53rd of Matson’s career and moved her into third place on UNC’s all-time list.

Syracuse’s goal came with 2:12 remaining, on one of 11 penalty corners the Orange drew on the day. Eefke van den Nieuwenhof had the goal, assisted by SJ Quigley and Tess Queen.

The Orange had 16 shots, 12 of them in the second half, to the Tar Heels’ eight. Syracuse remains the only team to outshoot UNC this season, and has done so twice. The difference on Friday compared with SU’s 12-11 margin in the last matchup, is that one of UNC’s shots was on goal in the Oct. 1 meeting and just over a month later, seven of the eight were.

“We set out to put their team under pressure as best we could,” Fulton said. “Our forwards did a phenomenal job and our midfield had the intercept mentality that we needed. We came out strong from the word go. We didn’t have a whole lot of opportunities early but every time we had one we got an outcome. I’m very pleased with the start, which set the platform for the rest of the game. Our defense created and then we were able to finish up some great opportunities.”

Syracuse’s 11 penalty corners (to UNC’s three) marked a season high by an opponent, and the Orange’s 16 shots equaled the season high by a foe, but UNC goalkeeper Abigail Taylor met that barrage with a standout game.  The Tar Heel freshman matched her career high with seven saves to help UNC prove that the earlier 5-0 blowout wasn’t an accurate portrayal of the Carolina team.

“They kind of annihilated us the last time we played them and we just had so much we wanted to prove, to the fans, to our parents, UNC, to each other,” Griggs said. “And with Coach not being there either, we wanted to prove we could do it without her there.”

No. 10 North Carolina 4, No. 9 Syracuse 1
Scoring: UNC – Matson (penalty stroke), 15:52; UNC – Matson, 24:45; UNC – Matson (Hannah Griggs), 26:59; UNC – Griggs (Matson), 51:52; SU – Eefke van den Nieuwenhof (Tess Queen, SJ Quigley)
Shots: UNC 8 (1/5/1/1), SU 16 (1/3/6/6/)
Penalty corners: UNC 3 (2/1/0/0), SU 11 (1/2/5/3)
Goalkeeper saves: UNC 7 (Abigail Taylor, 60:00, 1 goal allowed, 7 saves), SU 3 (Brooke Borzymowski, 60:00, 4 goals allowed, 3 saves)
Records: UNC 12-6, SU 13-5



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